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Path: /college-football/why-ohio-state-oregon-will-be-fastest-championship-game-college-football-history
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From three yards and a cloud of dust, as Woody Hayes might say, to three plays per minute.

 

Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but when Ohio State is in the conversation to be one of the fastest national champions in college football history, the message is clear: The hurry-up, no-huddle is as mainstream as can be.

 

If Oregon wins the national championship, the Ducks will be the most up-tempo team to win the national title since at least the BCS era.

 

That’s not a surprise to anyone who follows college football closely.

 

This, though, is the revelation: If Ohio State wins the national title, the Buckeyes might end up one of the fastest champions since the start of the BCS era, too.

 

Ohio State still has a way to go to catch up to Oregon in tempo, but the Ducks and Buckeyes are running track meets compared to national champions since 1998.

 

“(Tempo is) an advantage for the offense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told reporters in Columbus earlier this week. “And if you don't take it, then that's fine. But even Alabama is moving in that direction, and is it full speed all the time? We're not, but certainly that gives us an advantage at times.”

 

Ohio State might not be the full-time tempo team like Oregon is, but either way, the Buckeyes or Ducks will be the first national champion since the BCS era to run 1,000 plays in a season. And that doesn’t have anything to do with playing a 15th game. Both easily crossed that threshold in the semifinals, their 14th game of the season.

 

Both teams average more than 72 plays per game — Oregon at 74.8 and Ohio State at 72.5. Only five BCS/AP champions in 16 years averaged more than 70 plays per game — 1999 Florida State (74.5), 2000 Oklahoma (71.9), 2004 USC, 2005 Texas (72.4) and 2007 LSU (71).*

 

*if that LSU team looks out of place, there’s a good reason for it. The “undefeated in regulation Tigers” played a total of six overtime periods in two games that season.

 

The plays per minute metric may be even more telling. Oregon averages nearly 2.8 plays per minute, which would be a BCS record by a wide margin.

 

Ohio State averages over 2.3 plays per minute. As it stands, the Buckeyes would be the fourth-fastest team to win a title since 1998.

 

Pace of Play and National Championships
YearTeamGamesPlaysPlays per GamePlays per Minute
2014Ohio State141,04774.792.76
2014Oregon141,01572.52.33
2013Florida State1494767.642.3
2012Alabama14898

64.14

1.99
2011Alabama1386566.542.03
2010Auburn1494867.712.31
2009Alabama1494767.642.02
2008Florida1487462.432.07
2007LSU14994712.2
2006Florida1487562.52.01
2005Texas1394172.382.34
2004USC13923712.23
2003USC (AP)13897692.39
2003LSU (BCS)1482558.931.88
2002Ohio State1490964.932.05
2001Miami1276263.52.21
2000Oklahoma1393571.92*
1999Florida State11*82074.552.62
1998Tennessee1379260.92*

*complete data unavailable

 

What’s that you say? Auburn-Oregon in 2010 was already the signal that tempo offense had arrived?

 

Maybe for Oregon. Even with Gus Malzahn running the offense, Auburn ran at a pace not that different from what came earlier in BCS championship history.

 

Under Chip Kelly, the Ducks averaged 78.8 plays per game and 2.9 plays per minute. Had the Ducks won that game, they would have been the most up-tempo champion by a mile.

 

Instead, Auburn won. And while Malzahn’s scheme and tempo set the tone for a new era in the SEC, that Tigers team was not as fast as either team in Dallas.

 

That Cam Newton-led Auburn team ran 67.7 plays per game, well below the 70-play threshold. The Tigers that season averaged 2.31 plays per minute, well behind Oregon’s pace this season and a smidgen behind Ohio State.

 

Perhaps that’s not the most startling of storylines until you examine where Ohio State and Urban Meyer started.

 

Meyer’s 2006 and 2008 championship teams at Florida were two of the four slowest champions of the BCS era in terms of plays per game. Ohio State’s 2002 title team ranks 11th of 17 champions in plays per game during that span.

 

“At Florida, there's a misunderstanding that we were a big tempo team,” Meyer said. “We weren't.”

 

All things change, and the tempo at Ohio State is among them. Meyer’s last two Buckeyes teams have averaged more than 71 plays per game and 2.28 plays per minute. As recently as 2008, Ohio State averaged 62.1 plays per game and fewer than two plays per minute.

 

In other words, the Buckeyes have gone from old school to new school in six seasons.

 

The irony is that Oregon isn’t running at its breakneck pace on every snap. The Ducks’ 2.76 plays per minute this season is their lowest since 2009.

 

Will this be the wave of the future? Oregon coach Mark Helfrich isn’t quite sure, though the change won’t come from the Ducks.

 

“People that have one foot in the water of our style or our way,” Helfrich . “A couple of years from now, they’ll do something else.”

Teaser:
Why Ohio State-Oregon Will Be the Fastest Championship Game in College Football History
Post date: Friday, January 9, 2015 - 07:00
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-season%E2%80%99s-biggest-surprises
Body:

6. The dominant Atlanta Hawks

It’s not that nobody saw the Hawks coming. They were a tough out last year, pushing the then-heavyweight Indiana Pacers to seven games in an arduous first-round playoff battle — and they did this despite losing arguably their best player, Al Horford, for the season.

 

But who can say they saw Atlanta coming this fast, and this hard? The Hawks have gone 19-2 after a bumpy start, and are now tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for the league’s second-best record. A rejuvenated Horford is an All-Star candidate, as is frontcourt partner Paul Millsap. 

 

Don’t sleep on their guards, either, though. Jeff Teague is demonically quick at the point, shrewdly beginning their Spurs-like sets as he knifes into the lane. The best possible result of their dynamite passing sequences? A three-pointer from Kyle Korver, who’s shooting an otherworldly 51 percent from beyond the arc.

 

5. The Detroit Pistons’ turnaround

has clearly done more than just free up the Pistons’ clogged-up big man rotation. When coach and team president Stan Van Gundy made an example of the by sending him out the door, it seemed to awaken the fight and focus in his whole roster. After a pitiful 5-23 kickoff to the year, Detroit is now undefeated since exiling Smith seven games ago.

 

And they’re not just beating patsies, either. The Pistons’ most recent action saw them sweep a dreaded Texas two-step, taking down the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in thrilling fashion, then beating the very next night. Keep your eyes turned to the ongoing basketball renaissance in Motor City.

 

4. Increased player movement

in the NBA is about a lot of things, but the largest factor of all is a that makes it hard for teams to keep rosters together, and encourages them to treat contracts and assets fluidly.

 

In other words: this season’s winter trading market . Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Rajon Rondo, Brandan Wright, Andrei Kirilenko and Jae Crowder have all switched teams, with more than a month to go before the deadline, and with plenty more rumblings out there. Luol Deng and Lance Stephenson, for starters, are both said to be on the block.

 

3. Cleveland’s shaky beginnings

Just as we didn’t see the Hawks getting so good, so quickly, it’s hard for anyone to convince the world they saw the Cleveland Cavaliers’ monstrous struggles in their crystal ball. LeBron James’ squad was, we knew, full of young talent and led by a rookie NBA head coach in David Blatt. It was never going to be easy.

 

The level of in Cleveland has been astounding, though. Two mid-season trades (for Shumpert and Mozgov) point to a heightened level of urgency as the organization fights to retain James and Kevin Love this summer, both of whom can walk away. Considered title contenders before the season, the 19-17 Cavs are now working overtime just to get decent playoff positioning, and to make sure they don’t have to break the band up anytime soon.

 

2. Jimmy Butler’s surge into MVP territory

The Chicago Bulls have been kicking tail. If it weren’t for the Hawks’ unstoppable play, they’d have found their way to Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed by now. And the top source of their success is coming from an unlikely figure: shooting guard Jimmy Butler has become the Bulls’ best player.

 

Butler has long been a defensive menace, wearing his opponents’ thin with his brash, ceaseless hustle. But his sudden scoring touch has pushed him into the land of superstars. Most remaining doubters of Butler’s brilliance shut their lips when they saw him corner MVP front-runner James Harden into zero second-half field goals in a Bulls win over the Houston Rockets. Butler straight up made Harden look bad:

 

(embed Vine:)

<iframe class="vine-embed" src="" width="600" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

 

1. The Sacramento Kings firing Mike Malone

Just when you thought the Western Conference was getting that much harder… it got a little bit easier.

 

The Sacramento Kings had been lost, directionless for years amid questions of ownership and a poor track record in the draft and free agency. Then, they did the unthinkable, and looked like a contender with a 9-5 start, behind the amazing work of big man DeMarcus Cousins and the best version yet of .

 

But when Cousins missed a string of games with viral meningitis and the Kings dropped eight out of 10 contests, their lost his cool. He fired one of the leaders of his team’s turnaround, . Malone wasn’t the best in the league by any means, but he was doing a damn good job, and had the difficult Cousins on his side.

 

Under the direction of Ty Corbin, the Kings have been a mediocre 4-6, even with DeMarcus healthy back in the rotation. Basketball optimism will probably have to keep waiting for another day, in California’s capital.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 14:50
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/predicting-nfls-year-end-awards
Body:

There are still eight teams battling for the ultimate prize, and the chance to hold the Lombardi Trophy over their heads at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. It’s what everyone in the NFL is after every season, far more important than any individual awards.

 

But the individual awards are important too, and while those haven’t been awarded yet, they’ve surely already been decided. Here’s a look at how some of those votes should go.

 

NFL MVP

Nominees: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers; QB Tom Brady, Patriots; DE J.J. Watt, Texans; QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; QB Tony Romo, Cowboys; RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

 

Winner: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers


There’s a lot of buzz for Watt to become the first defensive player to win the MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. And the buzz is deserved coming off a brilliant season that included 20.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections, an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown and a few TDs on offense, too. But in this era nobody affects a game like a quarterback does. And Aaron Rodgers was simply brilliant, throwing for 4,381 yards and 38 TDs with only five interceptions. He also r-e-l-a-xed the Packers and their fan base after some early issues. A good case can be made for Brady and Roethlisberger for the same reason, but Rodgers was simply better. As for Romo and Murray, they turned the Cowboys into a true contender, finally, but it’s hard to figure which one of them was the MVP for their own team.

 

COACH OF THE YEAR

Nominees: Jason Garrett, Cowboys; Bruce Arians, Cardinals; Bill Belichick, Patriots; Bill O’Brien, Texans; Doug Marrone, Bills

 

Winner: Bruce Arians, Cardinals


In almost any other year, Garrett would be the runaway winner for completely transforming the Cowboys into a power team – both physically and in the standings. He also would win points for enduring all these years and surviving Jerry Jones. But what Arians did in Arizona was remarkable considering the string of injuries his team faced – including early and late injuries to quarterback Carson Palmer. He was unfazed by the adversity and still guided the Cards to a 12-win season and the playoffs (though it ended badly behind his third-string quarterback). Belichick deserves consideration, as always, considering many predicted the demise of the Patriots. And O’Brien and Marrone helped revive struggling franchises despite problems at quarterback. But what Arians did, especially with his quarterback issues, was the best job in the NFL this year.

 

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

DeMarco Murray

Nominees: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers; QB Tom Brady, Patriots; QB Andrew Luck, Colts; WR Antonio Brown, Steelers; RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

 

Winner: RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

 

Assuming Rodgers doesn’t win this too – personally I like to have this go to someone other than the MVP – this becomes more of a stat-based award. Murray was brilliant from the get-go, opening the season with eight straight 100-yard rushing games (and 10 of the first 11). In this pass-happy era, that’s remarkable. So were his 1,845 yards, which were about 500 more than any other RB in the field.

 

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Nominees: DE J.J. Watt, Texans, LB Justin Houston, Chiefs; CB Richard Sherman, Seahawks; DT Ndamukong Suh, Lions; LB Von Miller, Broncos; LB DeAndre Levy, Lions

 

Winner: DE J.J. Watt, Texans

 

Watt will win this in a runaway – probably unanimously – and he should. No defensive player was as spectacularly good or as consistent throughout the year, and none had anything close to the impact on games that he did. He has earned MVP consideration, though he likely won’t – and shouldn’t – win that. So this is his consolation prize. Everyone else is a distant runner up, but the only other defender who has a shot to get a vote or two is Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who came within a fraction of Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record by finishing with 22 sacks. Still, that’s only 1.5 more than Watt and he doesn’t come to the table with everything else Watt brings. In the NFL, at least on defense, neither does anyone else.

 

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Nominees: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Giants; G Zack Martin, Cowboys; WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers; RB Jeremy Hill, Bengals; QB Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings

 

Winner: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

 

As good as this rookie class has been – and its been one of the best in years – this really should be unanimous. Beckham had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, which is better than all the other rookie receivers. And he did it in only 12 games and in spectacular fashion, with the highlight-reel catch of the year. Hill and Evans were good, but his numbers don’t compare, and Bridgewater wasn’t able to do what a quarterback is supposed to – lead his team to the playoffs.

 

The best case for “other” would be Martin, who was brilliant on the Cowboys’ revived offensive line and by at least one measure didn’t allow a sack all season. It’s hard to single out one player on an O-line, though. Also it’s hard to imagine a guard will garner much support considering Beckham’s other-worldly numbers.

 

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Nominees: DT Aaron Donald, Rams; LB C.J. Mosley, Ravens; LB Khalil Mack, Raiders; LB Anthony Barr, Vikings; S Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Packers

Winner: DT Aaron Donald, Rams

 

This is a hard award to give out, because it will have to be based more on eyes than on stats. None of these rookies put up any kind of spectacular defensive numbers. What they mostly did was become solid players at unheralded positions who improved their team’s defenses. The only exception is Donald, which is why he may run away with this award. His nine sacks stand out among all defensive tackles, especially since most sacks usually come from ends. He provided excellent run-stopping for a good Rams front, while adding a much-needed pass-rushing push.

 

—Ralph Vacchiano

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 12:44
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-8-2014-0
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for January 8: 

 

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• This is somehow perfect: .

 

, along with his crossing guard duties.

 

• Not sports, but interesting nonetheless: .

 

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• Today in Steve Ballmer insanity: The Clippers owner flails around to Fergie.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 12:08
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/daniel-bryan-wwe-superstar-daniel-bryan-talks-wrestling
Body:

Despite being only 5'10" and 210 pounds, Daniel Bryan found a home as a and became the heavyweight champion. His “Yes!” chants ring throughout arenas and just about everywhere he shows up. We spoke with the 33-year-old Washington state native as he recovers from an injury and asked him for a glimpse inside the wild world of wrestling.

 

Daniel Bryan WWE SuperstarWas it hard to get your wrestling career started?

In the old days, you had to find someone to train you. Now, there are wrestling schools all over. I was lucky that I went to The Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy.

 

So, what advice would you have for someone who wanted to get started?

One, find a good, reputable school. The second thing I would stress is conditioning. I’ve never been a guy who was jacked up, but I was always in good shape. Number three, never give up. Even when I was on the independent tour and not making a lot of money, I had a lot of fun. I traveled the world. It was a blessing.

 

How did your “Yes!” chant start?

My favorite cage fighter, Diego Sanchez, says, “Yes!” for motivation. I said to myself, “That would get under so many people’s skins.” All of a sudden, I started doing it, and a couple weeks later, it caught on. It has transcended other sports. I did an opening speech for the San Francisco Giants’ playoff game. It’s surreal.

 

Who would you consider to be the best athletes in WWE?

I’m impressed with John Cena. We were somewhere at an Olympic lifting place, and there were all these gym records listed on the wall, and he goes out and breaks a bunch of the records in one day. We’re supposed to be taking it easy, and he’s breaking records. 

 

Which wrestler is most different from their ring persona?

Kane. He is literally the nicest guy and he’s super intelligent. I learned a lot about economics from him. I learned a lot of history from Kane. Brie and I saw him in the airport after a show one time, and he was in a coffee shop with his glasses on, reading. Brie laughed and said, “If people had seen what he was doing the night before, they wouldn’t believe it.”

 

Is there anybody you wish you could have wrestled?

Shawn Michaels. He trained me, but I never got the chance to wrestle him. 

 

What’s the highlight of your career?

The highest point of my career was Wrestlemania XXX, as far as ring accomplishments go. But last December, the “Slammies” were in Seattle, and my dad was able to go. It was special, because my dad was mentioned (during the event). He called my sister and told her how much of a great time he had. He even signed some autographs. He signed them, “Daniel Bryan’s Dad, Buddy Danielson.” (Bryan’s real name is Bryan Danielson.) My dad just passed away in April, so that night was special to me.

 

Daniel Bryan and wife Brie BellaHow much does it help that you are married to someone (wrestler Brie Bella) who is in the business?

It’s incredibly helpful. Our lives are very hectic. We also just support each other. The frustrations in wrestling are different than those in a regular job.

 

What does the future hold for you?

Right now, I’m trying to focus on getting better. But I am working on a completely different style of wrestling. I have a chance to do some things that people have never seen before.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/5-questions-ohio-state-great-archie-griffin
Body:

When it comes to Ohio State football, few names are more important than Archie Griffin, a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Here's our quick Q&A with the Buckeyes great as his team prepares for the national championship. 


1. If you could describe the team in one word, what would it be?
Well, "awesome" is the word, and I believe that about this team. But probably more appropriate right now is "resilient." We’ve had some adversity this season and bounced back.  
 
2. Do you have a game-day tradition or superstition?
More when I was a player. Back then I would make sure I would eat the same thing that I had eaten the week before, usually a small piece of steak, spaghetti with a very bland sauce, and two pieces of toast with butter and honey on them. Coach (Woody) Hayes always said he wanted us to play hungry and the truth is we actually were hungry (laughs). Now I don’t do much. I’ve always been confident in our team and the way they’re going to perform. But I do pace around during games. That happens.
 
3. Finish this sentence: If my school wins the national title, I’m going to ...
 … be overjoyed. And if you’re asking me what would I do – I’m going to go to Disneyland. Make sure you hold me to that.
 
4. Where will you be watching the game?
I will definitely be there. 

5. Who’s your favorite player on the team? (Why?)
I like Zeke, Ezekiel Elliott. I think he’s a well-rounded back. He does a great of running the football, he blocks well, and he does a good job catching the ball out of the backfield. Jalin Marshall is a fun one to watch as well. But I really like Zeke and really believe he has a tremendous future ahead of him at Ohio State. I think he’s a very special player.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/national-championship-preview-and-prediction-oregon-vs-ohio-state
Body:

Oregon and Ohio State close out college football’s first four-team FBS playoff on Monday, Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. Monday night’s matchup is uncharted waters for college football in the new postseason format, as the Ducks and Buckeyes have to regroup for the championship just one week after bowl victories. Oregon used five Florida State turnovers and 41 second-half points to defeat the Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State overcame a 21-6 first-half deficit to defeat Alabama – the No. 1 ranked team – in the Sugar Bowl. 

 

Both teams have been hit hard by injuries this season. Oregon suffered a couple of injuries to its offensive line in the regular season, including ailments to star left tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a knee injury after the regular season and is out for the remainder of the year. But those three players aren’t the full extent of the Ducks’ injury report. This team lost starting tackle Tyler Johnstone and receiver Bralon Addison before the first snap of the year. Despite all of the injuries, Oregon’s offense continued to perform at a high level thanks to Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks averaged 47.2 points per game and rebounded from a loss against Arizona in early October to finish the year with nine consecutive victories.

 

While Oregon’s injuries have been significant at various positions, Ohio State’s losses have been centered on one position – quarterback – without a doubt the most important spot on the field. Braxton Miller was lost for the year in fall practice due to a shoulder injury, but redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett filled in admirably, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular season. Barrett suffered a season-ending leg injury against Michigan, which pushed third-stringer Cardale Jones into the lineup. Jones had only two career pass attempts prior to this season, but the sophomore delivered with solid performances in big games against Wisconsin (Big Ten championship) and Alabama (Sugar Bowl).
 

Oregon and Ohio State have met eight previous times on the gridiron. The Buckeyes have won all eight matchups. The last meeting between Oregon and Ohio State took place in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

 

Oregon vs. Ohio State (Arlington, Texas)

 

Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Oregon -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Marcus Mariota

When the College Football Playoff National Championship kicks off on Monday night, there’s no doubt the best player on the field will be wearing a white No. 8 jersey. Quarterback Marcus Mariota won Oregon's first Heisman this year, entering this game with 4,121 yards passing and 40 scores. The junior also has rushed for 731 yards and 15 touchdowns while tossing just three picks in 408 passing attempts. Additionally, Mariota is averaging 10.1 yards per attempt – the best in the nation – and boasts a quarterback rating of 184.4. The junior started slow in Oregon’s Rose Bowl win over Florida State but finished with 338 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks are far from a one-man show on offense, as the line is one of the best in college football, running back Royce Freeman has rushed for 1,343 yards as a true freshman, and the receiving corps is loaded with speed and talent. Stopping Oregon’s offense falls to Ohio State co-defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Luke Fickell, while its offense shares some of the burden by attempting to slow down the pace and keep the Ducks on the sideline. No defense held Oregon under six yards per play through the first 14 games. Can Ohio State find a few answers? This assignment is no easy task, especially with just a week to prepare. On the positive side, teams with a good defensive line/front seven have been able to slow Oregon’s offense (at times). Ohio State has one of the nation’s most-talented front sevens on defense, headlined by end Joey Bosa, tackle Michael Bennett and rising star Darron Lee at linebacker. The Buckeyes are one of the nation’s most active teams around the line of scrimmage (105 tackles for a loss, 43 sacks) and need a big performance from the front seven in order to slow down Mariota. Of course, it’s going to be hard for Ohio State to completely keep Oregon in check all four quarters. The Buckeyes have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and limit the damage done by the Ducks’ skill players in open space. Ohio State may have to give up some yards, but this unit needs to limit big plays and force Oregon into longer drives than this team is used to.

 

2. Ohio State’s Gameplan on Offense

Oregon is going to rightfully garner the pregame attention as the best offense in Arlington. But let’s not forget about Ohio State’s attack. There are more similarities between these two offenses than some may realize, as coach Urban Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman have modeled the Buckeyes’ gameplan after former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly’s attack. This season, the Ducks have run 1,047 plays in 14 games. Ohio State has run 1,015 in 14 contests. And in terms of yards per play, Oregon is averaging 7.4, Buckeyes 7.0. While Ohio State’s offense isn’t as explosive as the Ducks, this unit is capable of scoring 40 points on Monday night. Quarterback Cardale Jones has kept Ohio State’s offense performing at a high level, but the key to Monday night’s game could be running back Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore has rushed for 450 yards and four scores over the last two games and faces an Oregon defense that allowed 180 yards on 39 attempts against Florida State. Even though the Buckeyes want to play at an up-tempo pace, slowing down the game and allowing Elliott and Jones to control the flow of the game on the ground might be the best plan of attack. When Jones drops back to pass, the sophomore has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, including big-play threat Devin Smith (27.7 ypc), the steady Michael Thomas (50 catches) and rising star Jalin Marshall. When Ohio State moves into scoring position, the Buckeyes can’t afford to settle for field goals or have turnovers like Florida State experienced last week. Oregon’s defense is prone to allowing yards in exchange for turnovers and stops in the red zone. Ohio State has to grind it out with its rushing attack and eliminate the giveaways.

 

3. Turnovers, Third Downs, Red Zone Offense/Defense

While the good folks in Vegas pegged Oregon as a touchdown favorite, there doesn’t appear to be a significant advantage for either team on Monday night. Considering there’s very little separating Oregon and Ohio State, small aspects of the game like turnovers and red zone performance will be critical. In the Rose Bowl win over Florida State, the Ducks forced five turnovers. And for the season, Oregon has posted a positive or even turnover margin in every game. It’s critical the Ducks win the turnover battle (+20 for the season), especially since their defense will give up yards. Ohio State is +10 in turnover margin but lost 22 this year. The Buckeyes can be sloppy with giveaways, as Meyer’s team lost at least two turnovers in a stretch of four out of five games. However, in Ohio State’s last three contests, this team has lost only two turnovers. Oregon simply won’t beat itself with turnovers on Monday night. The Buckeyes need to find a way to force a couple of turnovers and finish with a zero in their giveaway column. These two teams are also among the best in the nation at converting third-down attempts. The final stat sheet may not look pretty for either defense in terms of yards or points allowed, but both units have to get off the field on third downs and get the ball back to their offenses. And when Ohio State is on defense, it has to find a way to make the Ducks kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. In the red zone, Oregon has scored 51 touchdowns on 76 trips. That news has to be concerning for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes are tied for 87th nationally in red zone defense. The motto for Ohio State is pretty simple on Monday night: Allow yards but give up only three points.

 

Final Analysis

 

There’s no shortage of intrigue for the Ohio State-Oregon showdown. For the first time since the 2006 BCS National Championship Game (Texas vs. USC), there’s not a team from the SEC in the final game of the college football season. The Ducks are looking to win their first national title in school history, while the Buckeyes are hoping to claim their first since 2002. Despite losing two quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, coach Urban Meyer kept Ohio State in contention for the playoff and national championship. Meyer is one of the best in the nation, and his big-game experience could benefit the Buckeyes on Monday night. On the other sideline, Oregon has the No. 1 player in college football and an offense that is tough to stop with only a week to prepare. Will Mariota deliver in what could be his final college game? Or will the Ducks’ defensive concerns eventually be too much to overcome? Is this the game where a relatively inexperienced Cardale Jones struggles? All of those questions (and more) will be answered on Monday night.

 

Here are the staff predictions from Athlon Sports, along with a pick for MVP honors:

 PredictionMVP Pick
Mitch LightOhio State 34-30 QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State
Steven LassanOhio State 38-34RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Mark RossOregon 37-31QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
David FoxOregon 42-35QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

 

Teaser:
National Championship Preview and Prediction: Oregon vs. Ohio State
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/sean-maguire-jj-cosentino-next-florida-state-after-jameis-winston-enters-nfl-draft
Body:

Florida State is starting over at quarterback next season after 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday. Replacing Winston’s on-field production will be one of college football’s top offseason storylines to monitor, as coach Jimbo Fisher has a cast of talented, yet largely unproven options in the mix.

 

Before previewing Florida State’s quarterback battle for 2015, let’s take a step back and examine Winston’s two-year career in Tallahassee.

 

Winston’s departure ends one of the top two-year runs by a quarterback in recent memory. The Seminoles went 26-1 under Winston and claimed the 2013 national championship with a victory over Auburn last season. The Alabama native led Florida State to the playoff in 2014, but the Seminoles lost 59-20 to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

 

Statistically, Winston’s numbers dropped from 2013 to 2014. After throwing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2013, Winston threw for 3,907 yards and 25 scores in 2014. Additionally, Winston’s interceptions climbed from 10 (2013) to 18 this year.

 

Even with Winston’s drop in production, coach Jimbo Fisher believed the sophomore had a better year than he did in 2013. It’s also worth noting Winston was playing with a revamped receiving corps and a shuffled offensive line that struggled at times in 2014.

 

While Winston received plenty of attention for off-field matters, his two-year run at Florida State is going to be hard to top by the next starter or any passer in Tallahassee. And it’s not unfathomable to suggest Winston was the most talented quarterback to play at Florida State.

 

Considering Winston’s two-year run in Tallahassee, there are big shoes to fill under center. Assuming Winston goes in the first few picks as expected, he will become the third consecutive Florida State quarterback to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. That’s some impressive accolades for Fisher to tout on the recruiting trail.

 

Let’s examine the next options in Tallahassee:
 

Sean Maguire

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Maguire should open spring practice as the favorite to win the quarterback job. The New Jersey native was a three-star recruit coming out of high school after running a wing-T offense at Seton Hall Prep. In two years of snaps at Florida State, Maguire completed 38 of 70 passes for 455 yards, three scores and four interceptions. He has one start (Clemson) under his belt, throwing for 304 yards against a tough defense on Sept. 20 this year. Maguire isn’t as talented as Winston, but he has experience in the offense.

 

J.J. Cosentino

2015 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman

 

Cosentino is a Pennsylvania native with plenty of talent, but he’s also a bit on the raw side after also playing in a wing-T offense in high school. Cosentino was considered by 247Sports to be a four-star recruit last year and redshirted in his first year on campus. The talent is certainly there for Cosentino. How quickly can he adapt to Fisher’s offense?

 

John Franklin III

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Franklin III played in two games this year after spending 2013 as a redshirt. The Florida native isn’t short on athleticism, as he was a member of Florida State’s track and field teams. According to his school bio, Franklin III recorded a 6.82 time in the 60-meter dash and shared Offensive Scout Team Player Award honors with Wilson Bell last year. Franklin III is probably a longshot to win the starting job next year.

 

The wild card: Braxton Miller 

 

Ohio State’s quarterback situation is crowded for 2015. Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller are each proven options for coach Urban Meyer. Miller is eligible to transfer and start at another program in 2015, and unless he’s guaranteed a starting spot in Columbus, it’s hard to envision the senior staying to sit on the bench or playing sparingly as a third-string quarterback. The Palm Beach Post reported in late December there was interest from Miller about transferring to Florida State. Miller is a different quarterback than what Fisher has worked with recently, as the senior is a dynamic dual-threat option. However, Miller is coming off two shoulder surgeries and may not be at full strength by this spring. Although Miller has the talent to be an All-American quarterback, he seems like an unlikely fit for Florida State.

 

Freshman Possibilities

 

Florida State has three freshman quarterbacks committed (as of Jan. 7).

 

Deondre Francois

4-Star by 247Sports Composite, No. 100 recruit nationally

 

Kai Locksley (listed by 247 as an athlete)

4-Star by 247Sports Composite, No. 225 recruit nationally

 

De’Andre Johnson

3-Star by 247Sports Composite, No. 377 recruit nationally

 

Johnson is already enrolled at Florida State, but Francois and Locksley could still flip to another school by Signing Day. Even if all three sign with the Seminoles, it’s hard to envision a true freshman taking the first snap of the year for Fisher.

 

The Supporting Cast Consideration

 

Regardless of which quarterback starts for Florida State next season, Fisher and the staff needs to retool the supporting cast. Receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary combined to catch 147 of the Seminoles’ 330 completions in 2014, and both players have expired their eligibility. There’s certainly no shortage of talent, as Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones is a solid group of young receivers. Four starters must be replaced on the offensive line, but left tackle Roderick Johnson is a good place to start the rebuilding effort. And the new quarterback will have a rising star in sophomore Dalvin Cook to lean on at running back.

 

Early Prediction

 

Maguire takes the first snap of 2015 for Florida State. Even though he wasn’t the biggest recruit in the quarterback huddle for the Seminoles, the New Jersey native has experience and will have a better grasp of the offense with an offseason to work as the No. 1 passer. Maguire’s first start (Clemson) wasn’t overly impressive on the stat sheet (21 of 39, 304 yards, two picks), but it’s also important to consider the Tigers had one of the best defenses in college football in 2014. Fisher will find an answer at quarterback by the opener, and the guess here is Maguire is the starter against Texas State.

Teaser:
Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino Up Next at Florida State After Jameis Winston Enters NFL Draft
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/how-ohio-state-and-oregon-built-their-rosters-national-championship
Body:

On Monday night in Arlington, one team’s national championship window might be opening while the other one might be closing.

 

First, don’t overreact. Both Oregon and Ohio State have proven their staying power on the big stage. The Ducks and Buckeyes will make College Football Playoff appearances in the years to come.

 

For Ohio State, the return trip might be a little sooner.

 

Of the 33 players who started at least one game for Ohio State this season, 13 of them came from the signing class of 2013. Six of those sophomores or redshirt freshmen started in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Contrast that with Oregon. True, the Ducks have a total of 14 freshmen, sophomores and redshirt freshmen who played regular snaps this season. But the Ducks are also relying heavily on the most veteran of veteran players.

 

Oregon started eight fifth-year seniors during the course of the season, including one who signed in the final class under Mike Bellotti two coaches ago. Six starters for Oregon in the Rose Bowl were fifth-year seniors.

 

There are many ways to build a national championship team, and few illustrate that better than Oregon and Ohio State in the title game this season. One is relying on young talent, the other on veterans. One is more likely to nab top-100 recruits, one has done a better job of developing three-star talent. And both tend to stay on their own sides of the Mississippi River to recruit.

 

Athlon Sports looked at every player who started a game for Oregon and Ohio State this season, giving us the 36 Ducks and 33 Buckeyes who have led the way for both teams to reach the final game of the 2014 college football season.

 

Here’s a look at how Oregon and Ohio State built contenders.

 

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Youth vs. Experience

 

Signing ClassOhio State (33 starters)Oregon (36 starters)
201414
2013139
201288
201198
201027
200900
200801

 

• On its face, Oregon’s 13 first- and second-year players would seem to put the Ducks on even footing with Ohio State’s 14 first- and second-year players. A deeper look proves otherwise. The Buckeyes’ last two signing classes produced standout defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and running back Ezekiel Elliott — not to mention injured quarterback J.T. Barrett. Oregon’s last two signing classes produced running back Royce Freeman, wide receiver Devon Allen and starting guard Cameron Hunt among others.

 

• There’s no doubt Ohio State is Urban Meyer’s team. Take a look at the last three signing classes for Ohio State. Two-thirds (22 of 33) of all the players to start a game this season signed under Urban Meyer.

 

• Oregon’s team is a little more evenly distributed by signing class, not a surprise since the program has seen little upheaval on the coaching staff despite Mark Helfrich taking over for Chip Kelly in 2013.

 

• The Ducks, though, have an abundance of fifth-year seniors. Oregon started six fifth-year seniors in the Rose Bowl: safety Erick Dargan, center Hroniss Grasu, cornerback Troy Hill, wide receiver Keanon Lowe, linebacker Tony Washington and offensive guard Hamani Stevens. Stevens will be the oldest player in the game. He signed at Oregon in 2008 before leaving for a two-year religious mission.

 

Where are the five-star recruits?

 

Star Ranking*Ohio StateOregon
32
1815
1017

*according to 247Sports Composite

 

• Both teams pull their share of top recruits, so it’s a bit of a shock to see only a combined five five-star prospects getting significant snaps for Oregon and Ohio State. Maybe that has something to do with the lack of the recruiting-mad SEC in the title game.

 

• That said, all of the five-star prospects in this game are playing major roles: Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and linebacker Curtis Grant are all starters. Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead is a starter. The lone exception is running back Thomas Tyner, who led Oregon in rushing in the Rose Bowl.

 

• Another unexpected twist: The best recruit for either team in the last five recruiting cycles isn’t on the roster. Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012, was declared permanently ineligible earlier this season amid positive drug tests. Meanwhile, the most decorated player in the game, Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, was a three-star prospect.

 

• Oregon did an exceptional job of locating and developing three-star talent. Besides Mariota, Oregon’s best three offensive linemen (Grasu, Stevens and Jake Fisher) were three-star prospects as were the Ducks’ three starting linebackers.

 

• And let’s not paint with too broad a brush: Ohio State unearthed some good three stars itself in linebacker Darron Lee and quarterback Cardale Jones.

 

• Between the two of them, Oregon and Ohio State started only two junior college prospects all season and only one of them (Oregon linebacker Joe Walker) started in the semifinals. Ohio State signed two players out of high school but needed to wait for them to return from a prep school. They were worth the wait — the prep school Buckeyes were Cardale Jones and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

 

From coast to coast

High Schools by State
Ohio StateOregon
Ohio (22)California (16)
Oregon (6)Florida (2)
Arizona (4)Texas (2)
Hawaii (2)Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey (1 each)
Nevada (2) 
Ohio (2) 
California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Virginia (1 each) 

• Few surprises here. Ohio State grabbed a majority of its key players from in-state with 22 Ohioans starting games for the Buckeyes this season. No other state pulled more than two. Oregon pulled 15 starters from the state of California, primarily from the Los Angeles metro area.

 

• Ohio State has one starter who went to high school in the West in Michael Thomas of Woodland Hills, Calif. Ohio State recruited him twice, once from his California high school and once from prep school in Virginia. Oregon, meanwhile, has four key players it recruited from a Big Ten state.

 

• The hometown crowd might not be too fired up about this: The game will feature more players from the state of Hawaii than the state of Texas. Oregon has two starters from Honolulu in Mariota and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Ohio State started two players from Texas this season — quarterback J.T. Barrett and receiver Dontre Wilson.

Teaser:
How Ohio State and Oregon Built Their Rosters for a National Championship
Post date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors, NBA
Path: /nba/dwane-casey-wants-fight-other-nba-head-coaches
Body:

Move over, Jon “Bones” Jones. Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is looking to take up the fighting mantle — except with other NBA coaches.

 

Well, maybe he was joking a little. Casey made the suggestion that he’d raise his fists in the name of Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, and his impending All-Star status. "I hope our fans get out and vote and don't put it in the hands of the coaches,” Casey said to . “And if the coaches don't do it, I'm probably going to get in a physical fight with those guys.”

 

Lowry is a on a Raptors team that has one of the best records in the NBA at 24-10, even without starting shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who’s missed the last 18 games with a groin injury. Perhaps DeRozan’s return (which could come as soon as Thursday against the Charlotte Hornets) can help Casey and his Canadian fanbase bring the Raptors to a level of attention and appreciation that allows them to put down the veritable boxing gloves.

 

Getting the world to turn their heads that far north to watch the game’s best new ballers remains a chore, though. This Toronto squad is easily the most competitive, exciting outfit they’ve fielded since the halcyon days of Vince Carter, with a pattern of mediocrity holding for over a decade in between then and now. The frozen nation has a thrilling team today, though, as well as the last two No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett — a duo both drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now both doing business just beneath their home country with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Basketball is on the rise in Canada, with Toronto as a hyper-loving sports city that deserves every bit of the Raptors’ success. And if their for their team’s first-round playoff presence in 2014 is any indication, there’s hope that they can gather the needed votes to promote Lowry beyond fourth place (his current standing regarding ) and keep their coach from spilling blood at his next union meeting.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 14:46
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/nine-lives-oregons-offensive-line
Body:

LOS ANGELES — If there was a time this season to give up on Oregon playing for a national championship, odds are the Ducks’ offensive line was involved.

 

First, left tackle Tyler Johnstone, an NFL draft prospect, was lost for the season to a torn ACL before the season ever started. Oregon moved veteran Jake Fisher from right to left tackle, but optimism for that move was short-lived.

 

Then, Fisher went down with a leg injury after three games. So did reserve Andre Yruretagoyena. Oregon responded with its two worst games of the season, giving up seven sacks in a narrow win over Washington State and five sacks in a loss to Arizona.

 

Oddly enough, the loss seemed to enhance Oregon’s chances for the playoff once Fisher returned to the lineup. When Fisher was healthy, Oregon was unstoppable. It didn’t hurt that Arizona finished the regular season with 10 wins and a Pac-12 South title.

 

In Pasadena, though, there was reason for doubt again. Veteran center Hroniss Grasu had missed three final three games of the regular season. He, too, recovered in time.

 

Grasu and Fisher were both in fine form for the Rose Bowl, a game in which Oregon neutralized a Florida State defensive front stocked with pro potential.

 

“It's been patchwork all year,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said from Rose Bowl preparation. “Guys that were called on that didn't expect to play have done a great job.”

 

 

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Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards were reasons the Seminoles won the eye test in Pasadena. The final eye test, though, was in Oregon’s favor.

Goldman and Edwards were non-factors in the Playoff semifinal. Against the Ducks’ line, the duo didn’t have a single tackle, forced fumble or tipped pass.

 

In other words, they were absent from the final stat sheet. Marcus Mariota was never sacked, and the Ducks rushed for a total of 301 yards and five touchdowns. Oregon didn’t even move backward on a run play until backup quarterback Jeff Luckie was in the game in the fourth quarter.

 

Now, all the Oregon offensive line has to do for the Ducks to win the national championship is post similar results against one of the best defensive lines in the nation.

 

Florida State front has pro prospects, for certain, but Ohio State’s line is better. This is a group that had three sacks against Alabama’s Blake Sims and contributed to three interceptions in the semifinal. A game before that, it held Melvin Gordon to 76 yards and no runs of longer than 13 yards in the Big Ten title game.

 

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may be the top player on either team, but no collection of players may be more impressive than Ohio State’s defensive front.

 

One of the key matchups in the game will be between defensive end Joey Bosa, a unanimous All-America selection, against Fisher, who was slated to spend the season at right tackle until August.

 

This kind of a matchup isn’t likely to faze Fisher. 

 

“Jake is a dog,” running back/wide receiver Byron Marshall said. “He doesn't take nothing from nobody, and I can appreciate that about him. If he gets pissed off, then it's good. Honestly, I like him mad. He gets to talking out there, and you can just see in his eyes that he's just ready.”

 

Oddly enough, Fisher, from Traverse City, Mich., committed to Michigan before the Wolverines fired coach Rich Rodriguez. Fisher now has a chance to beat Michigan State and Ohio State in the same season — but for Oregon.

 

While Fisher will continue to receive most of the accolades for Oregon’s offensive line thanks to the team’s performance when he’s in the lineup, he’s not the only difference-maker here.

 

A four-year starter and three-time All-Pac-12 selection, Grasu is one of the nation’s top centers. And although he missed the final three games of the regular season, he returned to pave through Goldman and the Semionles’ front line. Guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt are on a streak of 39 consecutive starts combined. When Grasu was out, Stevens was the one who moved from left guard to center.

 

And even tough Fisher’s injury exposed Oregon at the time, it provided freshman Tyrell Crosby with valuable experience. He’s started the last five games at right tackle. That includes no sacks allowed against Arizona or Florida State, a long way from his early starts against Washington State at Arizona.

 

“He was a freshman and trying to pick up the tempo of a college game,” Marshall said. “We were able to get that experience, help control the line that much more, and just helped us bust runs.”

 

What started as a patchwork is now a strength, perhaps enough of one to lead Oregon to its first national championship.

 

“Early on, when they were thrown in, they've had struggles, but those guys have really matured and developed as the year's gone along,” Frost said. “We've got more guys healthy right now than we've had almost the entire season.”

Teaser:
The key matchup in the title game? Oregon's offensive line is ready
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 11:42
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-7-2014-0
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for January 7: 

 

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. Watch out, bars and strip clubs of Tallahassee.

 

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. In fact, someone did.

 

• Of course,

 

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• The Preds' Pekka Rinne made an insane backwards leg save.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 10:42
Path: /nba/get-ready-busy-nba-trade-season
Body:
Monday evening’s surprising three-team swap — involving the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers — alerted the rest of the league to how quickly the trade deadline is coming up. With February 19 looming and a host of teams ostensibly a piece or two away from grabbing the Larry O’Brien trophy in , it’s time to expect dominoes to start falling.

The was not exactly the beginning of swap season, either. That was signaled when from the Boston Celtics to the Dallas Mavericks. Then it was continued by from the Detroit Pistons, followed by his sign-up with the potent Houston Rockets.

 

What else is on the grill? Some have speculated that Phil Jackson isn’t done sending pieces out in New York, and that 33-year-old veteran point guard Jose Calderon could also soon be out the door.

But not only crummy teams like the Knicks are in a place to potentially make moves. Even the Golden State Warriors, , are under some pressure to tweak their roster and salary cap situation. In order to make room for red-hot power forward Draymond Green, financially, they might look at moving All-Star David Lee, who’s been relegated to a reserve role as Green has a career year. Green is headed for restricted free agency this summer, and his coveted combination of three-point accuracy and stingy interior defense makes him worth a pretty penny.

 

That’s the nature of the new NBA. The complex, thorny collective bargaining agreement — written and instituted just about three seasons ago — means contracts will jump around the league like hot potatoes, both now and going forward. Continuity and consistency are all too difficult to attain under these movement-favoring rules.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 10:05
Path: /college-football/5-x-factors-ohio-state-and-oregon-2015-national-championship
Body:

Ohio State and Oregon clash in Arlington, Texas on Jan. 12 to decide college football’s national champion. The Ducks and Buckeyes advanced to the national championship after bowl wins on Jan. 1, setting up an intriguing matchup with no shortage of storylines. Both teams are led by offensive-minded coaches and were two of the top programs during the BCS era. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will be the best player on the field in Arlington, but Ohio State counters with a defense that limits opponents to 22.1 points per game. Despite losing starter J.T. Barrett, third-string quarterback Cardale Jones has filled in admirably and kept the Buckeyes’ offense hitting on all cylinders.

While Mariota, Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa will get most of the pregame hype as the top players on Jan. 12, there are always a few x-factors that deliver with a big (and perhaps unexpected) performance. Let’s examine five potential x-factors to watch on Jan. 12.

 

5 X-Factors for the 2015 College Football National Championship

 

1. Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

Jones easily passed his first two tests as Ohio State’s No. 1 quarterback. The sophomore threw for 257 yards and three scores against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and completed 18 of 35 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Jones doesn’t have the explosive running ability of former starter J.T. Barrett, but he’s certainly not a statue in the pocket. Against Wisconsin, Jones only rushed for nine yards on eight attempts, but he added 43 yards on 17 rushes against Alabama. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is clearly the best quarterback on the field when the Buckeyes and Ducks meet on Jan. 12. However, Jones has proven he is more than just a third-string quarterback in two starts. If Jones plays like he did against Wisconsin and Alabama, Ohio State has a good shot to win on Monday night in Arlington.

 

2. Evan Baylis, TE, Oregon
The loss of standout tight end Pharaoh Brown was a huge blow to Oregon’s offense. Brown suffered a major knee injury in the win over Utah and finished the year with 25 receptions for 420 yards and six scores. With Brown sidelined over the final three regular season games, Oregon tight ends – Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis – only caught three passes. But in the Rose Bowl win over Florida State, the tight end was featured more by coordinator Scott Frost and quarterback Marcus Mariota. Baylis grabbed six passes for 73 yards against the Seminoles, and both totals were season-high marks for the sophomore. With the speed and vertical threats in Oregon’s passing game, having a tight end like Baylis attacking the middle of the field is another dangerous option for Mariota.

 

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3. Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
Stopping Oregon’s offense starts at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State has the necessary defensive line to give the Ducks trouble from the snap, as end Joey Bosa and tackle Michael Bennett earned All-America honors in 2014. But Bosa and Bennett aren’t the only contributors to a line that is among the best in the nation. Washington ranked as the No. 21 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012 and has been a major contributor since his true freshman campaign. In 14 games this year, Washington recorded 45 tackles (9.5 tackles for a loss), 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The junior will be tasked with disrupting Oregon’s offense and winning the battle at the point of attack with interior linemen in guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt, along with center Hroniss Grasu. The Ducks will be focused on keeping Bosa and Bennett out of the backfield. However, with the attention diverted to the two All-Americans, Monday night’s game is a good opportunity for Washington to have a huge performance.

 

4. Chris Seisay, CB, Oregon

Seisay was pushed into the spotlight in the Rose Bowl after a knee injury ended Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s season. Despite Ekpre-Olomu’s absence, Oregon held Florida State to 20 points and no receiver eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The Ducks limited All-ACC receiver Rashad Greene to six catches for 59 yards, while tight end Nick O’Leary caught only one pass for four yards. Judging cornerbacks by statistics is always tricky, but Seisay recorded six tackles in his second career start. By all accounts, Seisay’s performance was not an issue in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State’s receiving corps doesn’t have an All-American performer like Greene, but this unit has made strides over the last few seasons. Devin Smith averages 27.7 yards per catch, while Michael Thomas has 10 catches over the last two games. Seisay was under the spotlight in the Rose Bowl, and it’s a safe bet to assume the Buckeyes will test the redshirt freshman once again on Monday night.
 

5. Jalin Marshall, All-Purpose, Ohio State
The official Ohio State depth chart lists Marshall at the starting H-back, but the freshman will get the ball in a variety of ways. And if something happens to Cardale Jones on Monday night, Marshall is technically the backup quarterback. Regardless of where he lines up, Marshall is an emerging star for the Buckeyes. The freshman rushed for 142 yards and a score on 23 attempts this year, attempted two passes and caught 33 balls for 447 yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, Marshall was a weapon on special teams, averaging 12 yards per punt return. In the Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama, Marshall recorded 10 touches in an all-purpose role. And if Ohio State is going to win on Monday night, he needs to have 10-15 opportunities to make plays in a variety of ways. The Buckeyes aren’t hurting for playmakers with running back Ezekiel Elliott and receivers Devin Smith and Michael Thomas. Dontre Wilson was the starter at H-Back earlier this year and missed the Sugar Bowl due to injury. Even if Wilson returns against Oregon, Marshall is too valuable (and too productive recently) to leave out of the gameplan.

Teaser:
5 X-Factors for Ohio State and Oregon in College Football's 2015 National Championship
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/oregon-ohio-state-13-stats-you-need-know-national-championship
Body:

The most important, bizarre, interesting and entertaining stats you need to know about the 2015 College Football National Championship game:

 

1939: First NCAA basketball tournament


Why is the first-ever NCAA basketball tournament relevant to the first-ever college football tournament? Because they both featured the same two teams. Oregon and Ohio State met in the 1939 NCAA Tournament final in the first-ever NCAA tourney. The Ducks topped the Bucks 46-33 for the championship in the 16-team, two-region tourney.

 

11,654: Difference in Marcus Mariota's and Cardale Jones' career yards


Cardale Jones has started two games in two seasons at Ohio State. He has 1,007 total yards of offense in his entire career — 876 this season and 131 in 2013. That’s only 11,654 yards behind Marcus Mariota’s career total of 12,661 yards. Jones has 621 career passing yards and 386 career rushing yards with seven total touchdowns. Mariota has 10,463 yards passing, 2,198 yards rushing and 132 total touchdowns.

 

460.34: Cardale Jones' QB rating on third and long


Jones was spectacular on third down against Alabama. More specifically, he has been excellent on third and long for Ohio State. On third and six yards or less, Jones hasn’t completed a pass all season (0-for-5) but on third and seven yards or more, Jones has a passer rating of 460.34. He’s 7-for-10 with 186 yards and two touchdowns without an INT.

 

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7.2: Ohio State’s average recruiting ranking the last five years

 

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have been building their roster with an SEC blueprint. With an average national class ranking of 7.2, Ohio State in the nation in 2014 (tied with LSU) behind only Alabama, Florida State and Florida. Meyer has signed three consecutive top-five classes since arriving following the 2011 season, giving OSU the “combine” advantage over Oregon. 

 

15.6: Oregon’s average recruiting ranking the last five years

 

The Ducks' average recruiting ranking over the last five seasons is 15.6 nationally. That is good for 14th. Oregon falls behind the five listed above and (in order) USC, Texas, Auburn, Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan and Tennessee. Oregon hasn’t had a class ranked better than 12th in the last five cycles and Mark Helfrich has landed the No. 21 (2014) and No. 19 (2013) classes respectively.

 

92.2: Oregon, Ohio State combined points per game


Offense shouldn’t be an issue for either team in the season’s final game. Oregon is second in the nation in scoring at 47.2 points per game while Ohio State is fifth in the nation at 45.0. No team in the nation scored more touchdowns this year than these two teams. Oregon leads the country with 88 touchdowns and OSU is tied for second (Marshall) with 84 touchdowns.

 

56,435,000: Viewers for the Playoff semifinals


According to ESPN, the two College Football Playoff semifinals drew the two largest cable audiences in history. The Rose Bowl set a cable record with 28,164,000 viewers, based on a 14.8 rating. That record was broken later that night by the Sugar Bowl with 28,271,000 million viewers, based on a 15.2 rating.

 

21.7: Highest-rated BCS title game


It should come as no surprise that Texas-USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl ending the ’05 season was the highest-rated BCS title game. In fact, it wasn’t really close. No other game ever reached an 18 rating. Six different title games landed a 17 rating: Oklahoma-Florida State (17.8), Florida State-Virginia Tech (17.5), Florida-Ohio State (17.4), Alabama-Texas (17.2), Ohio State-Miami (17.2) and Tennessee-Florida State (17.2).

 

119th: Oregon's national ranking in penalties


One area of weakness for the Ducks has been their discipline on the field. Oregon ranks 119th nationally in both penalties per game (8.1) and penalty yards per game (72.8). The Buckeyes aren’t elite in this category but are significantly better than the Ducks, ranking 47th in penalty yards per game (48.6) and penalties per game (5.6).

 

Nov. 23, 2013: Last time Oregon lost the turnover battle


Turnovers are the name of the game in football and few teams take care of the football and create turnovers better than the Ducks. Oregon was the only team in the nation that never lost the turnover battle this season. In fact, the last time the Ducks had a negative in the TO column was Nov. 23, 2013 when it lost to Arizona in the desert (-3). Oregon leads the nation with just 10 giveaways and is 10th nationally with 30 takeaways. Both the Ducks and Bucks forced seven turnovers in their last two games and both are +5 in their last two.

 

4.76: Ohio State’s yards per play allowed against Power 5 teams


The Buckeyes were 18th nationally this year with a tidy 4.86 yards per play allowed. But against Power 5 teams, Ohio State was even better at 4.76 yards per play — good for seventh nationally. The Ducks allowed 5.44 yards per play against Power 5 teams (40th) but have tightened up of late, giving up just 4.49 yards per play in their last four games.

 

6: Times Urban Meyer has been an underdog at Ohio State


Oregon is favored by a touchdown over Ohio State. It marks just the sixth time since arriving in Columbus that Urban Meyer has been an underdog, including the past three games. What happened in all five previous games? Ohio State has won outright every time, beating Michigan State (-2) and Wisconsin (-1) in 2012 and Michigan State (-3.5), Wisconsin (-4) and Alabama (-7.5) this season. Six also is the number of Top 15 teams Oregon will have played after facing OSU.

 

192.3: Rushing yards OSU gained over Alabama’s average allowed


The Crimson Tide entered last week’s Playoff game leading the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 88.7 yards per game on the ground. Behind Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes rushed for 281 yards — or 192.3 more yards than Alabama normally allows. For what it's worth, the Ducks are 51st in the nation in rush defense at 156.1 yards allowed per game.

Teaser:
Oregon-Ohio State: 13 Stats You Need to Know for the National Championship
Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/6-college-basketball-coaches-hot-seat
Body:

Sometimes, it’s nice to be proven wrong.

 

No one wants to watch a coach lose a job, but it’s a fact of life in college basketball that programs are paying for performance. Fail to perform a few years in a row and someone will pay the price, usually the head coach.

 

And most of the of the time, the trajectory of a program and a coach’s job is clear. Too many NITs, too many missed postseasons and the writing is on the wall for the coach’s last shot to save himself and his career.

 

That’s why it’s so remarkable to watch a coach turn a program, to watch a fired coach walking walk right into a contract extension. The pressure must be enormous and the buy-in may be tenuous.

 

But it happens again and again. Check any hot seat list from any given year and there’s likely a coach there who kept his job. For example, who at the start of last season though Rick Barnes was on his last legs at Texas?

 

A loss to Oklahoma on Monday notwithstanding, Barnes is doing just fine at Texas in 2014-15.

 

Who could be this year’s version of Rick Barnes? Here are a few candidates who might make the turn from coach in trouble to coach of the year this season.

 

Mark Turgeon, Maryland

 

All signs pointed to a mess of a season for Mark Turgeon, who entered the Big Ten losing five members of last year’s rotation to transfers. Instead, the Terrapins are at or near the top of the heap at No. 2 behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Maryland started 14-1 with wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Minnesota. The only loss is to Virginia. The Terps' offense has caught up to the defense with the highest offensive efficiency (31st) on KenPom in Turgeon’s four seasons at Maryland. Moreover, he’s done this with only eight games from Dez Wells. Four-star freshman guard Melo Trimble is averaging 16.2 points per game, and guard/forward Jake Layman has emerged as a 55 percent shooter, up from 40 percent last season.

 

Travis Ford, Oklahoma State

 

Ford was pointed to a no-win scenario in 2014-15. The Cowboys were already coming off a season that came unraveled despite the presence of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Oklahoma State is 11-2, one game off from last year’s mark of 12-1 at this point. Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are still here, and Anthony Hickey’s career has been revived after his transfer from LSU. Some of those wins don’t look as good as they normally would (Memphis, Missouri, Kansas State), and there are plenty of questions on how the Pokes will perform in a deep Big 12 again. Still, Ford appeared to be headed to another long season. The Cowboys at least will be competitive.

 

Steve Lavin, St. John’s

 

Lavin has had trouble matching the NCAA appearance in 2011. Granted, not all of that record the last three seasons is due to his coaching. In the two years since he returned from a bout with prostate cancer, St. John’s is 18-18 in the Big East with two NIT appearances. Could the Johnnies be pulling out of that slump? They started 11-1 with a wins over Syracuse and Minnesota and the lone loss coming to Gonzaga. St. John’s is 0-2 in the Big East and may start with a third consecutive loss to Villanova on Tuesday. It’s worth noting, however, that a four-point loss to Butler came without second-leading scorer Rysheed Jordan.

 

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

 

A former Rick Pitino aide, Willard looked like he had Seton Hall on the road to relevance with an NIT appearance in his second season in 2012. That came crashing down with 3-15 Big East mark in 2013 and a 6-12 mark last year. Willard’s fifth season with the Pirates may shape up to be his best and not entirely due to the arrival of highly touted freshman Isaiah Whitehead, though he's a big part of it. Seton Hall is 12-2 with a pair of wins over St. John’s and Villanova to start Big East play. Both have come without Whitehead, who missed the last three games with a stress fracture in his right foot. The Pirates have cracked the top 20 in the AP poll for the first time since 2001, Tommy Amaker’s final season.

 

Lorenzo Romar, Washington

 

Romar is a survivor, that’s for sure. He’s been at Washington for more than a decade and he’s rebuilt the the Huskies twice during his tenure. He may be on his away to another renaissance in Seattle after three consecutive years without an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Huskies started 11-0 with wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma. Nigel Williams-Goss remains one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, and Fresno State center Robert Upshaw solidified the interior defense with 4.6 blocks per game. The last three games spoiled an otherwise stellar start with an 0-2 start to Pac-12 play and a loss to Stony Brook. Still, no one expected much out of this Huskies team.

 

Trent Johnson, TCU

 

Johnson might not have been on the hot seat entering the season, given the uphill climb TCU has in the Big 12. Going 2-34 in the conference in the first two seasons, though, isn’t a great omen for job security. TCU started the season on a 13-game winning streak. The Horned Frogs did zero heavy lifting during that win streak. Six games were against sub-300 opponents compared to one against a top-100 opponent (Ole Miss). Still, TCU ranked 234th on KenPom last season and won only nine games. The Frogs will take it.

 

Still in limbo...

 

Tom Crean, Indiana

 

The scene in Indiana has calmed from a few months ago when a series of off-court incidents left Crean with a depleted roster. An NCAA Tournament bid isn’t completely out of the question as the Hoosiers have wins over SMU, Pittsburgh, Butler (on a neutral floor) and Nebraska (on the road) on the resume. Indiana is going to score a bunch, take a ton of 3s and not play a much defense. That’s a recipe to at least keep things interesting down the stretch.

 

Mike Anderson, Arkansas

 

Arkansas’ fate in the SEC will be intriguing as always. The Razorbacks are 11-2 but their best win is over SMU and the losses came to Iowa State in a blowout and Clemson. If the Razorbacks can’t win enough against teams not named Kentucky in the SEC to make the NCAA Tournament, Anderson will be in some trouble.

 

Anthony Grant, Alabama

 

The Crimson Tide might be feeling a bit better had Alabama found a way to hold a lead against Wichita State on Dec. 16. Instead, the Tide lost 53-52 and enter SEC play without a top 50 win. Unfortunately for Grant, once considered one of the up-and-comers in the sport, this situation is all too common.

Teaser:
6 College Basketball Coaches Off the Hot Seat
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 17:33
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-national-championship-prediction
Body:

 

Hosts Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan go in-depth to break down college football's national championship game.

 

Fox recounts his trip to Pasadena, what the Rose Bowl is all about and his lonely New Year's Eve. Gall breaks down NOLA on New Year's and his favorite moments from the Sugar Bowl.

 

How do Ohio State and Oregon stack up against each other? The guys go position-by-position to analyze both teams to find strengths and weaknesses for both. Who has the coaching edge? Is Marcus Mariota simply too good to beat?

 

Each host offers up in-depth analysis and a final prediction for the season's final game.


Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall @DavidFox615 or @AthlonSteven or email . The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, , and .

Teaser:
Cover 2 College Football Podcast: National Championship Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 14:19
Path: /nba/dion-waiters-and-jr-smith-are-move-big-three-team-trade
Body:

Buzz about this winter being a particularly active one on the trade market seems prescient today. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks have completed a huge swap.

 

The Knicks send J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavs in the deal, while the Thunder will get much-maligned guard Dion Waiters. The Knicks end up with a collection of waivable, non-guaranteed contracts, including Lance Thomas, Alex Kirk and Lou Amundson.

 

For , the move looks like a “reset the tone” maneuver, or a bit of addition by subtraction. The frequently ridiculous Smith was long believed to be on his way out once Jackson took a post with New York, while Shumpert is a useful piece as a perimeter defender — but only on a team that’s going somewhere in the short-term.

 

For the Thunder, who give up close to nothing in the move, bringing on Waiters seems like a calculated gamble. A frustrating but talented player, Waiters could offer the extra scoring firepower that OKC might need to get through the stacked Western Conference. But reining him in was always a challenge in Cleveland, so a more level version of Waiters still seems like an unlikely prospect. Shipping him in only seems like a good move only if they’re prepared to bury him down their bench if he doesn’t fit into what the Thunder are doing.

 

And for the Cavs, sending Dion out has a similar effect to what the Knicks do by jettisoning Smith. He wasn’t molding into their program, seemingly worsening their chemistry, not helping it. The question remains, though: How much different will things be with the equally difficult J.R.?

 

Getting Shumpert in the wine-and-gold, however, is a clear win., and extra strength on defense is one of them; Iman and his famously towering hairdo can provide that in spades.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 13:44
All taxonomy terms: Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Path: /nba/larry-sanders-says-he-doesn%E2%80%99t-want-play-basketball-anymore
Body:
Milwaukee Bucks starting center Larry Sanders — when he’s on — is one of the best defenders in the league. In the 2012-13 season, his best, he was second in the NBA with 2.83 blocked shots per game. 

But lately, it seems unlikely we’ll ever see him play elite ball again. This came out about Sanders yesterday: 

 

Sanders has missed a string of games this winter due to “personal reasons” as he struggles with whether to continue on in the NBA. Whether or not his absence was also caused by any friction with his team, or coach Jason Kidd, is unclear at this time. But Sanders has said in the recent past that he doesn’t want to be remembered as a basketball player, and is always thinking beyond the game as much as he can.

 

He’s also coming off a strange 2013-14 season, during which he played only 23 games due to injuries and legal issues. Sanders’ erratic behavior in 2014 further included him stating this past spring, rather publicly, that he .

 

If Sanders doesn’t want to play basketball, that’s fine and well. Nobody has to do anything they don’t want to — particularly not occupying the dream job of millions of others, when they’re apathetic to its goals. But the Bucks have $11 million dedicated to Sanders each of the next three seasons. He and his organization will likely have to work a way out of the rest of his contract if he’s truly considering retirement.

 

Similarly dispirited, would-be stars of Sanders’ generation include Andrew Bynum, , Royce White, and Gilbert Arenas before them. Having all the talent in the world only takes you so far, when you’re not interested in using it. Maybe the can tell us what it is about these mugs that say “no thanks, basketball glory.”

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 11:31
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-6-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 6: 

 

• While we all returned to work in the cold January air following the New Year holiday, .

 

.

 

. I'd vote him in.

 

 

.

 

 

.

 

.

 

• More hockey fun: .

 

.

 

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.

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 11:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-coordinator-hires-2014-0
Body:

The college football coaching carousel is one of the most intriguing aspects of every offseason. Regardless of whether a team had a losing record or finished in the top 10 of the final rankings, coaching changes are possible for any program after the regular season has finished.

 

The 2014 carousel produced several interesting hires, including Lane Kiffin to Alabama, Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia and Doug Meacham to TCU. And all four of college football playoff’s teams this season had a shakeup at one of the coordinator spots, as Florida State replaced Pruitt with Charles Kelly, and Oregon promoted Don Pellum to replace long-time coordinator Nick Aliotti.

 

Let’s take a look at the coordinator hires that had the biggest impact on the 2014 season:

 

College Football’s Top Coordinator Hires from 2014

 

Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford

Derek Mason’s departure was expected to have an impact on Stanford’s defense, but Anderson ensured the Cardinal remained near the top of the nation in fewest yards per play and points allowed per game. Stanford held opponents to 4.2 yards per play and limited opponents to 16.4 points per contest. The Cardinal also generated 46 sacks and allowed only 10 plays of 30 yards or more. It’s a small sample size, but Anderson appears to be plenty capable of keeping Stanford’s defense among the best in the nation.

 

Chris Ash, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

After allowing 31 passing scores last year, Ohio State needed to find a few answers in the secondary this offseason. The first step to fixing the pass defense came in the form of Ash, as the former Wisconsin and Arkansas assistant has an extensive background in working with defensive backs. The Iowa native brought immediate improvement to the Buckeyes’ defense, as the secondary limited the big plays and held opposing passers to just 55.1 percent completion percentage. Ohio State’s defense also cut its yards per play allowed mark from 5.3 to 4.9 in 2014.

 

Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Louisiana Tech
Diaz was one of the nation’s top rising stars in the assistant ranks but was dismissed at Texas just two games into the 2013 season. However, Diaz rebounded in a big way this year, coordinating a Louisiana Tech defense that led the nation with 42 takeaways. The Bulldogs also limited opponents to 4.9 yards per play and 24.7 points per game. Diaz accepted a job at Mississippi State in early January, but he made a huge impact on Louisiana Tech’s defense and helped the Bulldogs win Conference USA’s West Division in 2014.

 

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest

The final numbers revealed Wake Forest’s defense allowed 26.4 points per game and ranked 10th in the ACC (league-only games) by giving up 5.6 yards per play. While the Demon Deacons didn’t rank near the top of the ACC or nation in defensive categories, this unit had to overcome an offense that averaged just 3.1 yards per play in league contests. Additionally, Wake Forest’s offense ranked 12th in the ACC in time of possession, leaving the defense on the field for large chunks of the game. Despite some of the offensive shortcomings, Elko’s work was noticeable with this defense. The Demon Deacons generated 19 sacks in conference play and tied Clemson for the fewest touchdown passes allowed in the ACC.

 

Ralph Friedgen, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Friedgen was one of the nation’s top coordinator hires for 2014 and was a critical addition for a Rutgers program looking to build positive momentum in its first season in the Big Ten. Friedgen joined the Scarlet Knights’ staff after being out of football since 2010 and brought immediate improvement in a tougher league. Rutgers averaged 26.7 points per game and six yards per play this season, while producing 31 plays of 30 yards or more. Quarterback Gary Nova also recorded a 57.2 completion percentage, which was the highest mark of his career.

 

Tony Gibson, Defensive Coordinator, West Virginia
The West Virginia defense benefited from having a little better luck in the injury department and improved overall depth, but Gibson and veteran assistant Tom Bradley helped this unit take a step forward in 2014. In nine Big 12 contests, the Mountaineers allowed only 5.3 yards per play – ranked No. 3 in the league – and held conference opponents to 27.1 points per game. West Virginia also ranked second in the Big 12 in third down defense and third in the conference in pass efficiency defense. Gibson’s work in 2014 resulted in a significant raise to place the West Virginia native among the nation’s highest paid assistants.

 

Todd Grantham, Defensive Coordinator, Louisville

Grantham inherited a defense that wasn’t short on talent but had only four returning starters and had to transition to a new 3-4 scheme. Despite the preseason question marks, this group was one of the best in the ACC in 2014. The Cardinals allowed only 4.8 yards per play, held ACC opponents to 19.3 points per game and led the conference with 30 forced turnovers.

 

Tyson Helton, Offensive Coordinator, Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky’s offense flourished under Helton and first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. The Hilltoppers used an up-tempo approach on offense to record 534.6 yards per game and a robust 7.1 yards per play. Western Kentucky ranked second in Conference USA by averaging 44.4 points per game and recorded 39 plays of 30 yards or more. Quarterback Brandon Doughty was one of the biggest benefactors of the change in coaching staffs, as he threw for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns under Helton’s play-calling. Prior to 2014, Helton was an assistant at Cincinnati for one year after spending 2007-12 at UAB.

 

Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama

Kiffin’s hire was met with some skepticism after his stint with USC ended during the 2013 season. However, Kiffin was one of the finalists for the Broyles Award – nation’s top assistant – after leading Alabama’s offense to an average of 36.9 points per game in 2014. The Crimson Tide also averaged 6.7 yards per play, produced 20 plays of 40 yards or more and finished second in the SEC in third down offense.

 

Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU

TCU’s offense was in need of an overhaul after averaging just 25.1 points per game in 2013. Coach Gary Patterson turned to Meacham and former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie as the team’s new co-offensive coordinators, and the Horned Frogs offense quickly emerged as one of the best in the Big 12. TCU averaged 46.5 points per game, led the Big 12 by recording 6.7 yards per play and generated 41 plays of 30 yards or more. Meacham and Cumbie also developed quarterback Trevone Boykin into one of the nation’s most improved players in 2014.

 

Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia

Pruitt was pegged as an upgrade over former coordinator Todd Grantham, and the former Florida State assistant helped Georgia’s defense improve after allowing 29 points per game in 2013. Under Pruitt’s direction in 2014, the Bulldogs held opponents to 20.7 points per contest and just 4.8 yards per play. Georgia also forced 29 turnovers – 14 more than this unit posted in 2013 – and ranked third nationally in fewest plays of 30 yards or more allowed. Pruitt’s background as a defensive backs coach was also a huge boost for a secondary that was filled with youth in 2014.

 

Doug Ruse, Offensive Coordinator, Georgia Southern

Ruse is a veteran play-caller, serving as an offensive coordinator for six different programs since 1988. The Missouri native followed coach Willie Fritz from Sam Houston State to Georgia Southern and helped to guide the offense to an average of 7.3 yards per play. The Eagles also led the Sun Belt by averaging 39.1 points per game and finished first nationally by scoring 55 rushing touchdowns.

 

Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Boise State

Sanford is no stranger to life on the blue turf in Boise. The former Boise State quarterback returned to coordinate coach Bryan Harsin’s offense in 2014, and the Broncos averaged 39.7 points per game – the highest mark by the Boise State offense since 2011. The Broncos also averaged 6.7 yards per play in Mountain West games and produced 89 plays of 20 yards or more. Sanford was targeted by Vanderbilt this offseason, but he decided to stay at Boise State for the 2015 season. The former Stanford assistant will have his work cut out for him next year, as the Broncos have to replace standout running back Jay Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick this offseason.

 

Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State

Penn State has a strong track record of success on defense, and Shoop continued to raise the bar in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions led the Big Ten by limiting opponents to 4.3 yards per play and finishing first in the conference in scoring defense (18.6 ppg). The numbers posted by Shoop’s defense are even more impressive when you consider the offensive struggles by Penn State (14th in Big Ten in scoring). Prior to following James Franklin to Happy Valley, Shoop spent three years calling the plays for Vanderbilt’s defense. Under Shoop’s watch, the Commodores finished second in the SEC in fewest yards per play allowed (5.1) in 2013. Shoop might be the nation's most underrated defensive coordinator.

 

Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas

Bret Bielema’s decision to hire Smith after Chris Ash left for Ohio State paid huge dividends for the Arkansas defense. The Razorbacks allowed 30.8 points per game in 2013 but limited opponents to just 19.2 points per contest in 2014. The defense was playing at a high level to finish the season, as Arkansas allowed only 28 points over its last four games. Smith’s group also ranked second in the SEC in red zone defense, gave up the fewest plays of 20 yards or more in the conference (44) and held opponents to 5.9 yards per play – a yard decrease (6.9) from the 2013 performance.
 

Other Key Power 5 Coordinator Hires

 

Vance Bedford, Defensive Coordinator, Texas

Bedford and Charlie Strong helped to transform Texas back into one of the top defensive teams in the Big 12. The Longhorns allowed only 4.7 yards per play and held opponents to 23.8 points per game.

 

Art Kaufman, Defensive Coordinator, California

The Golden Bears took a step forward on defense under Kaufman, but this unit still needs more talent and depth. California allowed 6.3 yards per play this season – a decrease from 7.1 in 2013.

 

Pete Kwiatkowski, Defensive Coordinator, Washington

The Huskies had a young secondary but still managed to limit opponents to 24.8 points per game and 5.4 yards per play (Pac-12 only games).

 

Mark Mangino, Offensive Coordinator, Iowa State

Mangino didn’t bring a ton of improvement to Iowa State on the stat sheet, but the Cyclones lost standout receiver Quenton Bundrage to injury early in the year. Quarterback Sam Richardson tossed 18 touchdowns, which was the most by an Iowa State quarterback since Bret Meyer had 19 in 2005.

 

Scottie Montgomery, Offensive Coordinator, Duke

Former NFL assistant returned to Durham and coordinated an offense that averaged 32.4 points per game in 2014. Montgomery is a rising star in the coaching ranks and a name to remember over the next few seasons.

 

Don Pellum, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon

Pellum’s start as Oregon’s defensive coordinator got off to a rocky start, but the Ducks played better in the second half of the year. Oregon limited its last six opponents to an average of just 17.5 points per game.

 

Kurt Roper, Offensive Coordinator, Florida

Roper is looking for a new home after Will Muschamp was dismissed as Florida’s coach at the end of the regular season. Roper was only in Gainesville for a year, but the Gators made small gains on the stat sheet. Florida averaged 30.3 points per game in 2014, which was a sizeable increase after finishing last in the SEC with an 18.8 mark in 2013. The Gators also generated 27 plays of 30 yards or more.

 

Other Key Group of 5 Hires

 

Scott Boone, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Nevada
Nevada rebounded back into the postseason after missing out on a bowl bid in coach Brian Polian’s debut in 2013. Boone’s arrival from William & Mary helped the defense take a step forward on the stat sheet. The Wolf Pack gave up 7.1 yards per play last season but cut that number to 5.9 in 2014. Also, Nevada allowed the fewest plays of 30 yards or more (17) in the Mountain West this year.

 

Kevin Clune, Defensive Coordinator, Hawaii

Clune inherited a defense that returned just five starters and allowed 38.8 points per game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors showed improvement under Clune’s watch, limiting opponents to 26.8 points per game and finishing first in the Mountain West in red zone defense.

 

Travis Pearson, Defensive Coordinator, South Alabama

South Alabama’s defense had a couple of key losses from its front seven, but the Jaguars remained one of the top units in the Sun Belt. Pearson’s group held opponents to 5.2 yards per play and 22.9 points per game in conference matchups. The Jaguars also ranked second in the Sun Belt with 21 forced turnovers.

 

Tyson Summers, Defensive Coordinator, UCF

Summers started his tenure as the defensive signal-caller at UCF on a high note, as the Knights defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In his first full year as the coordinator, Summers guided UCF’s defense to a No. 1 rank in the American Athletic Conference in fewest yards allowed per play and limited opponents to 19.2 points per game.

 

Bryant Vincent, Offensive Coordinator, UAB

Vincent inherited a good group of skill talent in Birmingham, but the Blazers did not have a quarterback with any attempts in a FBS game. Despite the lack of experience under center, Vincent’s offense helped UAB to reach six victories. The Blazers averaged 5.5 yards per play and 33.2 points per game in 2014.

 

Duwan Walker, Defensive Coordinator, UAB

UAB’s defense allowed 43.8 points per game in 2013, but Walker and coach Bill Clark helped the Blazers cut that total to 29.9 points per contest in 2014.

 

Marcel Yates, Defensive Coordinator, Boise State

Yates returned to Boise State after a stint on Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Texas A&M and coordinated a defense that limited opponents to 5.2 yards per play in 2014. Additionally, the Broncos led the Mountain West in third down defense.

Teaser:
College Football's Top Coordinator Hires from 2014
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/buckeyes-harbaugh-will-return-big-ten-national-prominence
Body:

Ohio State won the BCS National Championship in 2002 in dramatic fashion over heavily-favored Miami.

 

An unbeaten, Charles Woodson-led Michigan team split a national championship with Nebraska in 1997.

 

But, quickly, name the last time the Big Ten won a national title in football before the ’97 Wolverines? That would be the undefeated 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes coached by Woody Hayes.

 

Following two titles in six years, it's been 11 more years of nothing but national disappointment for the Big Ten. So Ohio State is playing for more than just a championship on Jan. 12 against Oregon. It’s playing for an entire conference. Clearly, the value of a victory for the Big Ten in the championship game cannot be overstated.

 

“It was a big day for the Big Ten,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said after the Buckeyes win over Alabama. “We’ve had some struggles over the years but our talent level is up and our coaching is up.”

 

The Big Ten was the least successful conference during the BCS Era. It had the fewest programs play in the title game (one) and had the fewest championships (one) of any of the Power 5 conferences. Even the defunct Big East had two different teams play in the BCS title game (Virginia Tech, Miami twice).

 

Michigan is on its fourth coach in nine years. Penn State is on its third coach in four years after the worst scandal in college football history. Wisconsin has lost two coaches in three years for supposedly “lesser” jobs in other power conferences. Nebraska is more known for a or their former coach’s sharp tongue than competing for championships.

 

A few bowl upset wins for the league were exciting and welcome but were merely a brief moment of respite. Big Ten fans should not be excited about the future of their league because Baylor had a field goal blocked or Auburn’s kicker missed by six inches.

 

The Big Ten wasn’t underrated this year. It was terrible. It lost every major non-conference matchup with the exception of Indiana’s win over Missouri. The ballyhooed bowl season still included embarrassing B1G showings against middle of the pack teams like Tennessee, Stanford and those same Mizzou Tigers.

 

But all of that — a decade of championship irrelevance, coaching turmoil and disrespect — was erased in a matter of days. The Big Ten should be ecstatic about its future because of what the Ohio State Buckeyes did in New Orleans and Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor.

 

Beating Alabama wasn’t just another postseason for Ohio State. .

 

“You definitely represent your conference,” Buckeyes defensive end Adolphus Washington said. “You always hear about the competition down South in the SEC being so much better than up North. It gave us a chance to show what the Big Ten can do against the SEC.”

 

Listen to College Football National Championship Prediction podcast:



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Landing Harbaugh wasn’t just another hire. He immediately adds juice to a league in desperate need of headlines and credibility. He’s instantly one of the top two coaches in the league and one of the top dozen sideline generals in all of college football. With James Franklin settling in at Penn State and Mark Dantonio already clicking on all cylinders at Michigan State, the Big Ten East is set to become one of the power divisions in college football.

 

With Harbuagh, the Big Ten becomes must-see TV once again.

 

“It’s great to have him coaching in the Big Ten,” Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple said of Michigan’s new head coach. “It’s great for the rivalry and it’s great for the sport.

 

Scoring Harbaugh and beating Alabama can set two foundations for the Big Ten's future. Last week was the first step of many if the league wants to return to national prominence. The next step comes on Jan. 12 in the title game against Oregon, making a strong showing in Arlington that much more important.

 

“The Big Ten takes a lot of scrutiny from other leagues," Apple said. "They think we aren’t as talented. So this is a great platform to show the world that we can play with anybody."


Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa sees the national title game as not only an opportunity for Ohio State to reestablish itself as a national power but also a statement on the league.

 

“So many people are talking about the Big Ten not being relevant," Bosa said. "It would be nice to silence some haters.”

Teaser:
Buckeyes, Harbaugh Can Return Big Ten to National Prominence
Post date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /nba/detroit-pistons-are-thriving-without-josh-smith
Body:

The term “addition by subtraction” has rarely seen brighter days. 

 

The Detroit Pistons are playing their best basketball in years, after from their roster, eating tens of millions of dollars in the process — just to keep him away. They’ve won five games, and lost none, since they waived the talented forward.

 

Smith, with his new Houston Rockets squad, hasn’t exactly disproved the notion of himself as a locker room cancer. Since joining the Rockets, the team has achieved a season-worst .500 winning percentage, struggling to incorporate him into a James Harden-led strategy that was taking the stacked Western Conference by storm. A previously has been clogged by Smith’s presence.

 

While it’s certainly too early to tell if Josh is a fit with the Rockets, the current trend in Houston is bad. And if it persists, the term “subtraction by addition” might gain as much steam as its foil.  

 

Forward-thinking Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is a smart man, who’s often ahead of the curve. The utter shock that went through the league when he traded for Harden —— is a long-standing testament to that. As is the continuation of his coup the following summer, when he scooped Dwight Howard, the best defensive center in the game, out of free agency.

 

For the rest of the NBA, Morey has become a quick celebrity by creating some swift, telling lessons in asset management. Harden and Howard becoming Rockets wasn’t a matter of dumb luck — they came to Houston by way of years and years of Morey counting his dollars in the margins. The complex monster that is the NBA salary cap had clearly found one of its new masters when Morey suddenly turned zero superstars into two of them.

 

But the acquisition of Smith might represent a miscue. An inefficient player who’s long been one of the most frustrating players around, Josh has a lot to prove if he’s to become more than a sorry specimen for the annals of NBA nostalgia. Unless he soon finds a way to contribute to the Rockets’ title-seeking program — without detracting from it — he risks becoming the straw that broke their championship-bound backs.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 5, 2015 - 16:31
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/breaking-down-baseball-hall-fame-voting-MLB-2015
Body:

The much anticipated Baseball Writers Association of America vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is upon us, with the final vote being announced Tuesday, Jan 6.

 

2014 saw Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas as just the third class in 70 BBWAA elections in which three, first-year candidates were inducted, and just the eighth time overall that three players were inducted in the same year. With a little luck, and some cooperation from the baseball writers, Cooperstown could have three, hopefully four, new inductees this summer.

 

Getting 75 percent of approximately 700 active baseball scribes to agree on one player is tough enough. Getting 75 percent of many writers to agree on four players is more than exceptional. Not since 1954-55 have three or more BBWAA-elected players been inducted in successive years, and not since 1947 have four players been elected by the BBWAA on the same ballot.

 

Here, I will break down who I expect the BBWAA to elect for enshrinement in July, not necessarily who I believe should be inducted. That is a whole other column.

 

Two of the four players who I anticipate to be chosen are absolute locks. Take it to the bank. Pitchers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were two of the most dominating and feared pitchers of their era, and are easy first-ballot selections who should earn more than 90 percent of the writer’s votes.

 

Pitcher John Smoltz and second baseman Craig Biggio, should also receive the call from the Hall of Fame come Tuesday afternoon, but their numbers may need more scrutinizing than those of Johnson and Martinez to warrant first-ballot induction.

 

RANDY JOHNSON

 

The Big Unit, towering at 6’11 may have been the most intimidating pitcher of the past half century. His exploding slider and blinding fastball were as gnarly as the trademark mullet pouring out of his cap, leaving hitters helpless in the batter’s box for 22 Major League seasons.

 

The 10-time All Star won five Cy Young Awards, including four in a row (1995, 1999-2002) in the National League. Johnson was able to add a World Series ring, Series co-MVP, and Sports Illustrated co-Sportsman of the Year Award to his mantle after leading the fabled 2001 Diamondbacks to the Fall Classic.

 

Johnson is a four-time ERA champion (1995, ’99, 2001, ’02), nine-time strikeout champion (1992-95, 1999-2002, 2004), and led the league in complete games four times (1994, ’98, 2000, ’08), ERA+ six times (1995, 1999-2002, ’04), FIP six times (1994-95, 1999-2001, ’04), WHIP three times (1995, 2001, ’04), hits per nine innings six times (1992-93, ’95, ’97, 2001, ’04), and strikeouts per nine innings nine times (1992-95, ’97, 1999-2002).

 

Considering that Johnson pitched in the same era as names like Clemens, Martinez, Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, Schilling, and Mussina makes his accomplishments all the more fantastic - all while playing in the heart of the Steroid Era when guys like Brady Anderson were hitting 50 home runs a season.

 

The Big Unit finished his 22-year career first all-time in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6/SO9), second all-time in strikeouts (4,875), and a member of the 300 win club (303).

 

Randy Johnson is as Hall of Fame as it gets.

 

PEDRO MARTINEZ

 

What Pedro Martinez lacked in stature (5’11,170 pounds) he made up for with grit, consistency, and a platinum arm. Martinez, an eight-time All Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner (1997, ’99, 2000), is a concrete first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher.

 

While Martinez is more renown for his success with the Red Sox, he was just as dominant as a member of the Montreal Expos (1994-97), posting a .625 Win-Loss Percentage, 3.06 ERA, 20 complete games, eight complete game shutouts, and a strikeout per nine innings of 9.5/SO9 in four seasons north of the border.

 

In 1997, Pedro was awarded his first Cy Young Award after finishing one of the greatest pitching seasons since the Dead Ball era in which he lead all of baseball in ERA (1.90), complete games (13), strikeouts (305), ERA+ (219), FIP (2.39), WHIP (0.932), hits per nine innings (5.9/H9), and strikeouts per nine innings (11.4/SO9).

 

Martinez, miraculously, would best his 1997 showcase in 1999 and 2000, striking out a combined 597 batters, with a combined ERA of 1.90 to go along with 41 wins, 12 complete games, and leading the American League in adjusted ERA, FIP, WHIP, hits, strikeouts, and home runs per nine innings, strikeouts per win, and winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards, putting him in the same breath as the great Sandy Koufax in terms of consistent domination.

 

Martinez led his league in ERA five times (1997, 1999-2000, 2002-03) and topped the American League in strikeouts three times (1999, 2000, ’02). As a testament of his superior command, Martinez was responsible for striking out 3,154 batters over 18 seasons of work, and ranks third in career strikeouts per nine innings at 10.0/SO9.

 

Martinez retired in 2009 as the career leader in WHIP (1.054) and adjusted ERA (154 ERA+) for a starting pitcher, sitting second all-time behind Mariano Rivera for all pitchers, making him arguably the best starting pitcher of his era and a certainty to be enshrined in Cooperstown in 2015.

 

CRAIG BIGGIO

 

Biggio missed the 2014 class by just two votes, garnering 74.8 percent of the votes needed. Does Biggio missing the Hall buy 0.2 percent make him a sure thing in 2015? I think so, especially considering his percentage of votes has increased each year he’s been on the ballot, growing from 68.2 percent in 2013 to last year’s 74.8.

 

Biggio is a seven-time All Star, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner (1994-97), with five Silver Slugger Awards (1989, 1994-95, 1997-98) at two different positions (C, 2B). While Biggio is most remembered for his time playing second base (17,154.2 innings), he also spent significant time at catcher (3,493 innings) and center field (2,203.2 innings) making him the most versatile defensive candidate on the 2015 ballot.

 

Currently, Biggio is the only Hall eligible member of the 3,000 hit club, not banned or suspected of PEDs, not currently enshrined. Amassing 3,000 hits is practically an invitation to Cooperstown. His 3,060 hits rank 21st all-time, and he presently sits fifth all-time with 668 doubles. Biggio’s other career numbers include 1,014 extra base hits, 12,504 plate appearances, 414 stolen bases, 1,844 runs scored, 4,505 times on base, and 4,711 total bases.

 

With Jack Morris dropping off the ballot after failing to be elected in his final year of eligibility, it would be logical to assume those writers who previously voted for Morris and not Biggio, could do so this year, and put the 20-year Astro in Cooperstown.

 

In addition to Morris, 14 other names were dropped from last year’s ballot for not earning the required five percent of votes to remain eligible. This year’s ballot outside of Smoltz, Johnson, and Martinez is largely marginal and could see another 10 or so names disappear from consideration. Also, the superstars on the ballot who have been connected to PEDs aren't getting the support they need to remain relevant as 2014 saw fewer votes cast for Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa than in prior elections. Look for these voting trends to continue, and to aid Biggio’s cause.

 

My gut says the BBWAA puts Craig Biggio and his 285 hits-by-pitch in the Hall of Fame where he belongs.

 

JOHN SMOLTZ

 

The third arm in perhaps the greatest pitching rotation ever is looking to join his Braves teammates in Cooperstown. John Smoltz’s resume should make his candidacy an open and shut case for the BBWAA.

 

Smoltz’s career, while fantastic, is also intriguing because of his relocation to the bullpen after spending the first half of his career as a supreme starter. Following Tommy John surgery, Smoltz was moved into the Braves’ closer role where he continued to thrive. In 2002, Smoltz was named the Rolaids Reliever of the Year after leading the National League with 55 saves. This accomplishment left Smoltz and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley as the only two hurlers in baseball history with a 20-win season and a 50-save season in their respective careers. Smoltz is the only player in the game’s history to earn 200 wins and 150 saves during a career, giving him a unique appeal for a first-ballot enshrinement.

 

Smoltz is an eight-time All-Star and the 1996 Cy Young Award winner in which he posted a 24-8 record, 2.94 ERA, 276 strikeouts, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, in 253.2 innings of work. His career ERA is 3.33 and is the 16th member of the 3,000 strikeout club with 3,084. Smoltz boasts a brilliant career adjusted ERA of 125, a career 1.176 WHIP, and sits 13th all-time for pitchers with 320 putouts.

 

Look for “Smoltzie” to join Mad Dog and Glavine in Cooperstown this July.

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
Breaking Down the (Likely) Baseball Hall of Fame Selections 2015
Post date: Monday, January 5, 2015 - 15:46
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/greatest-25-sportscenter-anchors-all-time
Body:

There’s a reason ESPN has become the sports goliath that it is today.

 

They were the first and best in the business to do what they do. It began on Sept. 6, 1979 with the original run of their signature nightly sportscast that kept fans informed about what was happening in sports. This well before the eruption of the Internet, blog-o-sphere, social media or niche television networks.

 

For those of us born in the early '80s (like myself), SportsCenter was as big a part of my childhood as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I could follow my favorite teams, stories and personalities from all over the nation in one place. I could watch Knicks and Mets highlights every night whether I lived in Dallas, Atlanta or Austin. But what took SportsCenter from small cable network newscast to broadcasting behemoth was the creative, funny and unique personalities that, as Ron Burgundy would say, read the news.

 

With that in mind, from the viewer's perspective, here are the Top 25 SportsCenter anchors of all-time:

 

1. Keith Olbermann (1992-97)

After a decade with CNN, Olbermann joined ESPN’s SportsCenter in 1992 quickly becoming a marquee personality. By 1995, he had won the Cable ACE award for Best Sportscaster. After things had soured internally at ESPN, and with an eye always toward the political spectrum, Olbermann left SportsCenter for MSNBC in 1997. He also worked for Fox Sports Net and NBC Nightly News. The cult-hit sitcom Sports Night, written by Aaron Sorkin, is based on Olbermann’s time spent with Patrick on the set of SportsCenter. Despite his bizarre and eccentric personality, ESPN likely isn’t what it is today without the impact of the combination of Patrick and Olbermann. He is credited with the advent of the phrase “This is SportsCenter” which has been used in cross-promotion and advertising for nearly two decades.

 

2. Dan Patrick (1989-06)

Not many jobs in any broadcasting field last for nearly 20 years and Patrick was the one of the best. Signature phrases "en fuego" (which actually started as "el fuego") and "The Whiff" helped grow the idea that SportsCenter was as much entertainment as it was news. He and his cohort Keith Olbermann should be largely credited with the initial growth of ESPN as the World Wide Leader. Others brought creativity and entertainment to sports broadcasting but Patrick and "KO" perfected the art and changed the way fans consume highlights forever. Not many sportscasters have 16 motion pictures and two national radio shows on their resume. Patrick has set the bar in the sports broadcasting industry.

 

3. Chris Berman (1979-present)

When he was good, few have ever been as entertaining and likable as Berman. Signature catch phrases and nicknames made him one of the preeminent SportsCenter anchors during the time of biggest growth for ESPN. His work on NFL Primetime and the Home Run Derby makes him one of the most distinctive personalities in ESPN history. However, his longevity might be his biggest weakness as 30 years in the business has left his shtick a bit stale. At his best (the '90s), he was one of the greats. And at his worst (the '00s), he can be nails on a chalkboard.

 

4. Bob Ley (1979-present)

The classy stalwart has been with the network since its inception in 1979, making him one of (if not the) longest tenured ESPN employees in the building. Over the course of his prestigious career, Ley has claimed eight sports Emmys (Sports Journalism) and three Cable ACE awards (Sports Information Series) and has been the long-time host of the acclaimed investigative program Outside the Lines. He is credited with breaking the story of Pete Rose being banned from baseball.

 

5. Stuart Scott (1993-2015)

His influence on sports fans and the media was vast and interwoven with the very sports he covered. He added a vocabulary with a never before seen flair — “booyah” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow” — that changed the way broadcasters covered the sport. But most importantly, he was a role model, influence and road-paver for young African-American journalists across the country. And he did it with class, humor, courage and originality. He will be missed.

 

6. Greg Gumbel (1979-88)

There is little Mr. Gumbel has yet to accomplish in his illustrious broadcasting career. He has done play-by-play for the NCAA Tournament, NBA, MLB, Winter Olympics, college baseball and NFL. He has hosted shows about every sport on NBC and CBS as well as ABC. But it all started back in 1979 when he started his career at ESPN. He was a reporter, anchor and play-by-play man at a time when many doubted the future of SportsCenter. Gumbel’s no-nonsense approach has made him a model and iconic broadcaster who influenced generations of rising journalists and TV personalities.

 

7. Scott Van Pelt (2001-present)

The signature bald head of Van Pelt has become a staple of the ESPN television and radio broadcasts. He began working at the Golf Channel and has continued his work as one of the top host/analysts at all the major tournaments each season. Much like Patrick, Mayne and Olbermann, SVP’s comedic talents on SportsCenter helped him land an ESPN Radio gig as well as a variety of video game jobs (EA Sports).

 

8. Kenny Mayne (1994-present)

Few television personalities have ever had a dryer sense of humor than Mayne. The Washington native and junior college quarterback debuted on SportSmash in 1994 before moving over to the big network and developing into one of the funnier broadcasters in sports. His extensive and creative home runs calls in particular have withstood the test of time. He then developed “The Mayne Event” for NFL Sunday mornings and is still currently involved with his own feature “Wider World of Sports” as well as horse racing.

 

9. Linda Cohn (1992-present)

In 1987, Cohn made her first big mark in the business by becoming the first full-time national female sports anchor in U.S. radio history. She has withstood the test of time, hosting SportsCenter for over 20 years. Along the way, she was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and given the Women’s Sports Journalism Award. She also authored her own biography and has paved the way for women everywhere to break into the sports broadcasting business — or, as she puts it, “The Boys’ Club.”

 

10. Rece Davis (1995-present)

Laurece “Rece” Davis graduated from Alabama in 1968 and worked his way to ESPN2 by 1995. The consummate professional, Davis can play both host and analyst roles as well as anyone in the business. His work on College Football Live, Gameday Final and College Gameday make him one of the best in the business. He is always gracious with his time and is one of the few who genuinely loves the sports he covers.

 

11. Robin Roberts (1990-04)

The smooth-talking Roberts has been a staple of national television for over two decades. With quality catch-phrases and her up-tempo personality, Roberts developed into one of the best SportsCenter anchors of all-time. She won three Emmys for her work at ESPN and was given the Mel Greenberg Media Award in 2001. It eventually landed her on ABC’s signature morning program Good Morning America. Her very public bout (and victory) with cancer is just one reason millions have grown to love the Mississippi native.

 

12. Brian Kenny (1997-11)

A baseball and boxing junkie, Kenny won an Emmy at ESPN and was named the network’s Volunteer of the Year in 2007. He also was named SI’s Media Personality of the Year in 2004 and Boxing Broadcaster of the Year in 2005.

 

13. John Anderson (1999-present)

Hailing from one of the most prestigious journalism departments in the nation at Missouri, Anderson has been one of the best new generation anchors at ESPN. He won the Oklahoma Sportscaster of the Year in 2012 and has crossed over into mainstream as the co-host of ABC's Wipeout.

 

14. Craig Kilborn (1993-96)

Many give credit to Kilborn, Patrick and Olbermann for bringing comedy to the SportsCenter set. He went on to host The Daily Show on Comedy Central and The Late, Late Show on CBS. He also famously appeared in Old School.

 

15. John Buccigross (1996-present)

The hockey aficionado has won Emmys for his work on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight as well as NHL Tonight. He has written for the Web site (as well as a book) and hosted for ESPN for nearly 20 years.

 

16. Dave Revsine (1999-07)

An even-keel broadcaster is as professional as they come. A Northwestern grad, Revsine hosted a variety of shows for ESPN and did play-by-play. In 2007, he left ESPN to become the lead studio host for the Big Ten Network when the channel launched.

 

17. Charley Steiner (1987-01)

The jolly, bearded anchor always seemed to have a good time on the air and always seemed to be involved in the funnier SC moments (Carl Lewis?). He eventually worked his way onto ESPN’s national baseball radio broadcasts as well before moving on to the Yankees' radio team in 2002.

 

18. Rich Eisen (1996-03)

The affable NFL Network lead host began his broadcasting career at KRCR-TV in Redding, Calif. He landed at ESPN in 1996 and built a name for himself with baseball impersonations and quality reporting. His podcast (The Rich Eisen Podcast) is one of the most listened to on the Web (over 7 mill. downloads).

 

19. Mike Tirico (1991-1997)

One of the smoothest sportscasters in the business today has arguably the best job in the business calling Monday Night Football. However, he got started on SC in the early 90s. He is calm, cool and collected at all times and it makes for an enjoyable broadcast nearly everytime.

 

20. Steve Levy (1993-present)

A quality and likable broadcaster, Levy has been around the SportsCenter desk for two decades. His famous “bulging disk” slip-up is one of the all-time great moments in ESPN history. He also earned the nickname “Mr. Overtime” for his work as a hockey broadcaster.2

 

21. Tim Brando (1986-94)

Brando has been a broadcasting giant for nearly 30 years. He has worked for CBS and, now, SiriusXM College Sports Nation and FOX Sports, but it all began nationally at ESPN. He worked on the NCAA basketball championships and the beginning of the great College Gameday as well as anchoring SportsCenter for nearly a decade.

 

22. Neil Everett (2000-present)

The West Coaster worked at Hawaii Pacific University for 15 years before getting back into broadcasting. His signature deep, gravelly voice and Island vocabulary makes him one of the better “new” anchors.

 

23. Suzy Kolber (1993-96, 1999-present)

She has been around and lasted as long as anyone in the business. Like Roberts and Cohn just before her, Kolber is a bit of a pioneer in the male-dominated industry. She also gave American sports fans one of the greatest TV moments of all-time.

 

24. Kevin Frazier (2002-04)

His time was brief at ESPN, but “K-Fray” has long been one of the business’ most respected personalities. He is now the host of The Insider as well as college football coverage on FX and Fox.

 

25. Sage Steele (2007-present)

One of the most affable hosts in the business earned her stripes as a SC anchor and it delivered her a big-time gig. Steele recently has taken over as the lead chair for ESPN's NBA coverage.

Teaser:
Ranking the Greatest 25 SportsCenter Anchors of All Time
Post date: Monday, January 5, 2015 - 11:15

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